Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse

Great author, disappointing work
I am an admirer of Hermann Hesse’s novels, but found little to enjoy in this work. The narrator, H.H., tells of his membership in a mysterious, mystical organization called the League, and a historic pilgrimage they made called the Journey to the East. Unfortunately, like Fight Club, the first rule of the League is Don’t talk about the League. Hesse is so deliberately vague about the League and the Journey that there’s little to hold onto or be interested in. Ambiguity in and of itself is neither enlightening nor profound. I’m surprised that so many readers find so much depth in this skeleton of a novella. I understand that it shares some of the atmosphere of Siddhartha and The Glass Bead Game, but it’s vastly inferior to either one of those great works. Like a sketch quickly tossed off by Picasso, it has value in that it was created by a master, but it doesn’t compare to his masterpieces.

If you are a scholar researching Hesse, I suppose this work could provide a valuable look into his mind set at a particular period of his life. For the general reader, however, I don’t think it’s a particularly inspiring work of literature. If you’ve read all the Hesse you can find and just can’t get enough of him, then by all means read it. Otherwise, treat yourself to The Glass Bead Game, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, Demian, Narcissus and Goldmund, or Beneath the Wheel, and steer clear of this one.

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